Remote office | photo: Samer Daboul
The digital nomad life: how to know if it’s right for you and tips for getting started
by Jennifer Mitchell
With the rise of the gig economy and with more companies allowing for remote work, the digital nomad lifestyle has become increasingly popular. For those who are happiest when traveling, the idea of becoming professionally and personally nomadic has a certain appeal.
You’ve probably seen many of them on Instagram; digital nomads are individuals who travel the world and work remotely from Airbnbs, cafes, hotel lobbies and RVs. Many are self-employed; however, some work remotely for another company. All business is conducted digitally, and the term “office” takes on a whole new meaning.
Although the thought of working from a beach in Thailand or a Parisian café sounds enticing, there are many challenges that come along with the nomadic lifestyle. To get a better understanding of what the digital nomad lifestyle looks like and how it works, we consulted three nomads, Peter, Adrian and Maggie, who are currently globetrotting while kicking butt in their fields.
Why make the world your office as a digital nomad?
The digital nomad lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but the experience can be incredibly rewarding. Being on the road and visiting new destinations spurs creativity and broadens your horizons, giving you a bank of diverse experiences that can inspire your work. It also pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to adapt to a new environment every day or week. This acceptance of new settings, people and cultures will make you more open to new experiences in the future.
“The digital nomad experience becomes even more rewarding when I can take my family and friends on trips,” says Peter, pictured right in Abu Dhabi. Peter is Vice President of Marketing at VMGroupe.com and works remotely at least two weeks a month. “Being able to explore new cultures, make new friends and see new sites with the people closest to you is so gratifying.” So far this year, Peter has traveled to South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Netherlands, Mexico, England, Spain, France and Italy. Last year, he made it to a whopping 17 countries.
So often Americans work hard, putting their nose to the grindstone for most of their adult lives. We work towards retirement and the promise of endless free time and the flexibility to travel. Digital nomads are tossing that idea aside and deciding to travel the world while they’re young and full of energy. The tradeoff, of course, is that some of the time spent on the road will be spent working.
“Travel has always been one of the most important parts of my life,” says Adrian owner of Sweet Spot Content, a content strategy and copywriting business that helps startups and entrepreneurs connect with communities. “But I never felt like I had enough time to do things the way I wanted to. On a two-week vacation, I would get the 'highlight reel' of a place, but never got off the beaten path. As a longer-term traveler, I’ve been able to explore places I would have never had the time to discover.”
Adrian plans to travel with her husband and work remotely for a year before settling into the “semi-nomadic” lifestyle early next year.
“For me it came down to the idea of, ‘if not now, when?’”, says Maggie, a commercial illustrator who designs packaging and consumer goods in the beauty, liquor and textiles industry. “Rather than waiting for our retirement accounts to mature (hopefully before our bodies do) we wanted to get out there and explore. Family also had a big impact on the decision. We have been living far away from our family and friends for too long. So, a huge focus in route planning is spending time with loved ones.”
Maggie and her husband are currently exploring the U.S. (21 states so far) and Canada (5 provinces) indefinitely.
Content strategist and digital nomad Adrian working from her Airbnb in Bali
Tips for getting started as a digital nomad
One of the biggest challenges of the nomadic lifestyle is getting started. Because the concept is fairly new, it’s essential to do your homework and really assess whether or not the lifestyle is right for you. Here are six tips for getting started.
1. The most obvious question to start with is: “Can I perform the functions of my job remotely?” Marketers, designers, bloggers, virtual teachers or tutors and those working in the gig economy are ideal candidates for remote work—though there are many careers that provide the flexibility to accommodate travel. Remote.com is a helpful resource to find jobs or projects that can be performed anywhere, and Remote Year provides a community and structured program to take your job with your current employer around the world.
2. Step two is analyzing your working style to make sure it’s compatible with the nomadic lifestyle. Can you stay on task or are you easily distracted? How are your organization, prioritization and time-management skills? Are you happy working alone or do you prefer to be around other people? Can you juggle time zones and working at odd times of the day? Being honest with yourself about your personality and working style is key to deciding whether or not the nomad lifestyle will be a success.
“Balancing work and life is much more challenging these days,” says Maggie. “When there’s an incredible hike or ride just outside the window it can be hard to stay focused. We have to remind ourselves that we are in control of our schedule and can stay in a place longer than we planned if work gets busy.”
3. Once you’ve determined your work and working style are travel-friendly, put together a budget that breaks down the cost of living where you plan to travel and how you plan to get there.
“After taking my first trip to Paris I was hooked on traveling,” says Peter. “I began to figure out how I could fit travel into my life and budget, learning every trick to get cheap flights, hotels and credit card points. I couldn’t live without Scott's Cheap Flights, Secret Flying, Momondo, Hotel Tonight, Agoda and Airbnb.”
Digital illustrator and nomad Maggie hiking in Nova Scotia
4. Up next, determine how much money you’ll need to make on the road and how many clients you’ll need to secure that before leaving home base.
“I often tell people to plan to work less than they do at home—a lot less,” says Adrian. “If you’re working 8-10 hour days, you won’t be able to take advantage of your travel destination—which is why you’re a nomad in the first place!”
It’s also wise to build up a client base with multiple streams of steady income before diving into the nomad lifestyle. When work fluctuates or slows at home it’s much easier to handle than when traveling, especially if you’re abroad.
“It’s important to have a good idea of where your work is going to come from before you get on the road,” says Maggie. “As romantic as it seems, a nomadic lifestyle isn’t free. Costs add up quickly. I would recommend trying to scale your business to your dream lifestyle before you get out there. If you can’t make it work from your apartment, it will be challenging to make it work on the road.”
5. If you’re feeling confident in your decision to become a digital nomad, it’s time for the fun part—deciding where to travel. As you work your way through your travel bucket list, make sure to research the destinations and cost of living well in advance to save time on the road.
“My husband and I spend at least an hour or two every day researching destinations, booking flights and hotels, and deciding which activities we want to do each day,” says Adrian. “Certainly, if you stay in one place for a longer period of time, this becomes a bit easier, but it’s definitely something to make sure you have time for.”
6. Finally, make sure you have all the technology, tools, gadgets and travel gear needed to work from the road. Your livelihood likely depends on, at minimum, a laptop and solid connection to the internet. When traveling outside the U.S., you’ll need adapters for your chargers, as well as a hotspot or portable router to secure a consistent and strong internet connection.
“International Wi-Fi connections are not what they are in the States,” says Adrian. “I’m constantly worried about whether my signal is strong enough for a call or video chat. It really is a crapshoot. I always have a backup plan in the form of an international SIM card or data plan on my phone.”
If you’re still on the fence about taking the plunge into nomadic life, Adrian has a piece of advice.
“Try it on for size first,” says Adrian. “Take a week or two “workcation” and see how it goes. That helped me realize I really could work from anywhere and definitely made the transition easier.”
Ready to take your work on the road? Check out this list of cities that are great for digital nomads and gear up for your trip with our new line of Nomad apparel and accessories with illustrations designed by none other than Maggie herself. To keep up with the work and travels of our favorite digital nomads, follow Peter, Adrian and Maggie on Instagram.
Jennifer Mitchell is a blogger, comedian, freelance copywriter and travel enthusiast.
Living the nomad life? Check out our No Small Plan Nomad collection